Ryan Mitchell, founder and director of Implied Violence, talks quietly in the hallway next to an ether dispensing machine. He is explaining the art of dressage - in equestrian sports it is the practise of training the horse to do what one would not naturally do; at times the horse may refuse the trainer's command in a brief, violent outburst before falling back into dressage. This may or may not be perceptible to the untrained eye, but beyond what we can see or believe the horse is engaging an internal battle - he is negating his refusal by continuing the dance in spite of his struggle against it.
It occurs to me that we do this in our lives nearly every day. We're trained to go to sleep and get up in the morning to work, bending to a system which dictates we must act a certain way politically and socially and perform a series of duties to either excel, keep up, participate, or purely survive. It doesn't matter what you’re doing in your life or how independently. You're a part of this. There is no escape. We continue the dance despite our struggles against it. We must constantly negotiate what we see against what we don’t see, balancing what we know against what we don’t.
The performers of Implied Violence demonstrate this dance with abandon and inconceivable discipline, serving as an unflinching mirror to our lives in extreme circumstance. They keep themselves awake for seventy-two hours at a time to endure the torture of ephemeral masks made of wax, tar, and honey. They bounce in place for eight hours straight in preparation to wear a corseted ribbon-encrusted dress. They adorn one another with leeches and knock each other out with ether to further alter their states, their decision making, and their perception of the world around them. They are both removing and immersing themselves in reality. At times, they balk. These are trials of the will. These are queries of fact and fiction, and whether there is a difference between them. While there is certainly enough photo documentation for you to bear witness outside of performance, it is not a reliable indicator of truth - you will have to decide for yourself what is true.
The work is raw, sexual, and art historical. Performer's eyes roll back in their heads as they succumb to fatigue, manic ecstasy, delirium, and ether. We are reminded of the creation of idols, and Bernini's Ecstasy of St Teresa. Lancing and blood evokes St. Sebastian and stigmata. While many of the acts committed in a performance are presented in a violent fashion, there is an accompanying tenderness - cradling, caretaking, responsibility, and comfort to the performer's confusion and disorientation. It’s relentless, but there is an end. We walk away. They walk away. Hopefully, we are changed.
Albert Von Keller is a quiet introduction and accompaniment to Implied Violence. His paintings suggest beauty and glow with a supernatural light. Underneath them lies something more less aesthetically beautiful, far more uncertain, and Other. Although his work doesn't feel as direct as Implied Violence, it's subtly informative and involves romantic things like candlelight, witches, and ectoplasm. But similarly, we learn that states of consciousness are altered, trances achieved, and he claims that "nature breaks out in this moment without restraint" while performers dream-dance and produce flowing emanations.
Von Keller's time was one of new discoveries and technologies; what had previously gone unseen was made visible. The body was the New World, a new line between fact and fiction and the differences between them. In order to feed his fascination, Von Keller engaged in paranormal exploration. He investigated the human psyche, prophesy, and trance states en tandem with the study of Christian resurrection, mystical healing, and stigmata. He held séances and performances in his home and studio, and directed his subjects as they posed for a photographer in order to paint them later. But as with Implied Violence, his photo documentation is not a reliable indicator of truth - you would have to have been there or be willing to synthesise the information in the painting versus the image in the photograph. Here again, you must decide for yourself what is true.
Albert Von Keller and Implied Violence share an examination of the line where our idea of reality begins to blur. While Von Keller records those who step into unknown territory through mysticism, supernatural territory, and religious fervor; Implied Violence actively engages that pursuit through deprivation, bodily exertion or abuse, and tests of endurance. We stand by as spectators, while they endure as synesthetes and somnambulists. They push hard against a veil that we, in dressage, protest and accept all at once; hovering in a quantum state of is/not, yes/no, true/false, real/unreal, natural/unnatural. We must come to admit that despite what we want or seek or strive for, there may simply be no answer at all but our own. We dance, we fight, we dance. Hopefully, we are changed.